The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 24, 2003

Senior Administration Official Briefing
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ON THE
PRESIDENT'S BILATERAL MEETINGS

1:35 P.M. EDT

MR. McCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Our briefer today will be talking on background, as a senior administration official. She's going to review the President's meetings this morning, and then be open to your questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hello, how are you? Let me just make a couple comments about one meeting that we didn't really have a chance to brief fully from yesterday, which was the meeting with Hamid Karzai, which was obviously a very important meeting.

The President was delighted to hear about the progress that's being made in Afghanistan. They talked about the progress in the war on terrorism; talked about the progress in fighting the Taliban; the need to continue to redouble those efforts, particularly in certain parts of Afghanistan.

But President Karzai also had some particularly good news about Afghanistan, talking about the fact that, thanks to both good farm management and the rains this year, there's a surplus of food. They're actually exporting, trying to sell their wheat this year -- which, for a country that has had a number of years of famine, is good news. He talked about some of the efforts that they're making at outreach on the constitution that's now completed; talked about what is appearing as important to the Afghan people -- they've gone out with some extraordinary number of surveys to the Afghan people to ask their opinions on the constitution.

In general, I think it's one of those meetings that, whether or not one tends to see glasses half full or half empty, you couldn't help but see this one half full, because Afghanistan has come a very, very long way in two years. And I think the President was very heartened by what is going on in Afghanistan. But the President reiterated his support to Afghanistan, the additional money that will be coming, and to redouble our efforts in advance of the elections in Afghanistan.

This morning, the President had a series of meetings. He met with several leaders of the Caribbean. They talked about affairs in the hemisphere, talked about the importance of free trade. He also had meetings with President Kufour of Ghana. That meeting talked a good deal about Liberia, what has been, thus far, a very successful intervention in Liberia. The President thanked President Kufour, who, as you know, was the head of ECOWAS, the President of ECOWAS, for his tremendous work in helping to get Charles Taylor out of Liberia, getting an ECOWAS force in, and they talked about the future there. The President also had a chance to talk with the Ghanian about the Millennium Challenge Account, about the AIDS initiative, and so forth.

Similarly, with Mozambique, the President had a chance with President Chissano to talk about the fact that Mozambique has made great progress in its political and economic reform, and congratulated him on that. They also talked about the Millennium Challenge Account and about the AIDS initiative.

The President had a meeting with President Musharraf. It was an excellent meeting in which they talked about the challenges in the war on terrorism, talked about the need to stop cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. And the President reiterated our friendship for Pakistan, going to be there for Pakistan, and they talked a bit about how the relationship would develop going forward.

The President had also a meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee, a lunch with Prime Minister Vajpayee. They talked about the progress we're making in U.S.-Indian relations, again about cross-border terrorism, about Indian support for Afghanistan. And they did have a discussion of Iraq. The Indians talked about wanting very much to be supportive of the reconstruction effort there. And those conversations will continue.

And then, finally, the President had a meeting with the German Chancellor, Chancellor Schroeder. Really the tone of this meeting could not have been better. The relationship -- the meeting started out with the President saying, we've been through some difficult times; I consider that to be behind us; and Chancellor Schroeder saying, I consider it to be behind us, as well, and Chancellor Schroeder then going on to say to the President in a somewhat more extended fashion what he said publicly, which is that Germany sees a stable and peaceful and democratic Iraq as essential; that it sees it in Germany's interest to do everything possible to contribute to that stable and secure Iraq; that however we got there -- and there were differences about how we got there -- it is now everybody's responsibility to make certain that Iraq succeeds.

They also, obviously, talked about Afghanistan and the tremendous efforts that the Afghans -- that the Germans are making on behalf of Afghanistan, the willingness to take over one of the provisional -- provincial reconstruction teams, the willingness to help NATO to take over the ICEF and to move it out of the country. And so, all in all, a very, very good discussion, and very good dynamics with the Chancellor.

Q Can I ask, was there any commitment from India or Pakistan to contribute troops in Iraq?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Pardon me?

Q Was there any commitment from either India or Pakistan to offer --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President did not ask. Those are discussions that are going on at this point. And let me be very clear about something. The President didn't come here to ask people for troops. The President came here to lay out a call to the international community to join together in whatever way people can in supporting the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in building a stable Iraq. Conversations are going to go on at various levels about what kinds of contributions countries can make. The donors conference is not for almost a month. And, as you know, we're also seeking a United Nations resolution that we think will make it somewhat easier for some countries to begin their own discussions of what they can do.

So to the degree that there was any thought that the President might come and ask people specifically for specific contributions, that simply wasn't intended.

Q The anonymous -- one of the three anonymous briefers yesterday, telling us about the Karzai meeting, said that Karzai complained about Taliban crossing over from training camps in Pakistan, and that the President would take it up with Musharraf today.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And he did.

Q He did? And what was Musharraf's response? Because it's not the first time we've heard how the Pakistanis, who you consider close friends, do permit, or at least look the other way, with training of Taliban.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: President Musharraf has been a very strong fighter in the war on terrorism. The areas of the Pakistani-Afghan border about which we're talking are extremely difficult terrain. We're talking about a part of Pakistan that hasn't been controlled by anybody, ever. So I think that this is not necessarily a lack of will. This is hard. And the President did ask President Musharraf to go back and to redouble his efforts to try and deal with this particular problem. But this is a very hard problem and I don't think we believe it's from a lack of will.

Q It's the schools, too. The border, I know, is impossible. But it's the training.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I'll remind you, Barry, that it is President Musharraf who laid out a plan for reform of madrassas. We're supporting some of the educational reforms that Pakistan is trying to go through.

But let's just be very clear. If you look at where Pakistan was prior to 9/11 and where Pakistan is now, you've had a complete shift in the orientation of Pakistan's foreign policy, of Pakistan's policy toward Afghanistan and the Taliban, and Pakistan's policies toward terrorism. And that has to be acknowledged. It doesn't mean that there isn't still more to do, but that has to be acknowledged.

Q There have been a couple of reports that Dr. Kaye's preliminary report found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, evidence that there were ongoing efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, but no evidence of weapons themselves. What do you know about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Dr. Kaye's progress report I have not seen. And I believe that Dr. Kaye is still in the process with people in the intelligence community of developing that report. And I think that it is premature for anybody to start saying what is or is not in that report. My understanding is that it is a report that is very much a progress report, and that doesn't rule anything out or anything in because it's a progress report. But I would not jump to any definitive conclusions about what's in that report. And I think anybody who's doing that probably doesn't really know what's in the report.

Q The source is a White House official -- obviously not you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's clearly not me. (Laughter.) And I'd be, actually, pretty surprised if it's a White House official who knows anything about it.

Q Dr. Rice, speaking of progress, have you made any in the last two days on a U.N. resolution?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the consultations that continue on the U.N. resolution continue. That was the whole purpose of being here, which was to discuss with people where we might go. I think the President's speech yesterday did a very good job of laying out some of the parameters that have to be maintained in a U.N. resolution.

For instance, the critical issue is to transfer sovereignty. Everybody wants to transfer sovereignty; that's very clear. Everybody wants the Iraqis to govern themselves, but to do it in a way that is responsible, that takes enough time for the development of a constitution, and therefore, institutions, the basis on which you could hold elections that would be free and fair. And any premature effort to "transfer sovereignty" is simply going to be harmful, and the United States is not prepared to do that.

Now, I think we had a lot of good discussions with people here about that rationale. And I didn't hear anyone say they want to have a premature transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis. All right? So that's a start, because there were some who were talking before we got here about immediate, quick transfer. I think we would rather talk about responsible, orderly transfer of sovereignty. And I do believe that just in conversations with lots of people, including my own counterparts, people are beginning to understand what the parameters are. And I think it's helped tremendously on the resolution process here. But nobody is a particular hurry to get this done --

Q Why not?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because we're going to do it right. The key here is to do the resolution in a way that is right, that allows full and complete consultation, and that then gets the resolution right. And we'll see what the timing on it is.

Q Is there any compromise on this? Are you willing to compromise?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think anybody wants to compromise on a transfer of sovereignty that might fall apart. And the process that's been set out -- which is to write a constitution and follow that with elections -- is an orderly process that makes a great deal of sense.

We can talk about how that happens. I don't think anybody wants to set artificial timetables, but we can certainly talk about how that happens, what role the U.N. can play in assisting in that process. But I'll have to tell you, in talking with Karzai -- with President Karzai yesterday, one thing that was very clear is the degree to which the very process of writing the constitution, talking about it among the population, and getting rid of -- getting ready for elections has deepened democracy in Afghanistan. And that, after all, is the goal, is to deepen democracy in Iraq. And nobody wants to short-circuit a process for a people that, of course, have had no national conversation about where they're going for more than 30 years.

Q On that point, we've always said that we wanted the Iraqis to lay out the timetable. There are some Iraqis who are now expressing some opinions about that timetable --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are some. (Laughter.)

Q What should we make of what is being said about that? What is your response to suggestions that there should be some small things that should be done sooner, rather than later?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if you look at what has happened over the last several months, Iraqis are taking more and more responsibility for the building of Iraq on a practically daily basis -- the creation of the ministries, which now really run the affairs of the country; the Governing Council is consulted on everything. It was the Governing Council that endorsed the rather dramatic economic reform plan that the Coalition Provisional Authority, working with Iraqis and working with advisors, worked out.

And so this is a process that is well underway of the gradual assumption of responsibilities by Iraqis, themselves. And that makes sense, because you don't want them to try to assume responsibilities when there's no infrastructure to do it. But that infrastructure is now in -- coming into place; more and more decisions are being made in that fashion, in a collaborative, consultative fashion. And that's going to continue, and it's probably going to accelerate.

What you don't want to do is to try to short-circuit what is an extremely important political process in which the Iraqis have to have the establishment of a constitution that will create institutions that worry about things like the protection of minority rights, that worry about the role of women. I mean, all of those things need to be done.

So I think there is actually more convergence here in view than might be thought. But what the United States can't do is to step away from our responsibilities, having liberated the country, of doing this in an orderly way where we have 137,000 forces on the ground, we're about to put $20 billion of American taxpayers' dollars into Iraq, and we're determined to make sure that this is all done responsibly.

Q Has the IGC made a specific proposal to the administration for some of the things that Mr. Chalabi has been talking about in public?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council, and what we do not have is a unified view among them.

Q Where are the Germans on this? I know it came up in discussions with the Chancellor this morning. How far apart are they from you on transferring power to the Iraqis?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Germans talked about a political horizon, the importance of a political horizon. But they also understand that institutions matter. They understand that you want to do this in a responsible way, that you don't want to try to do it so quickly that you now completely destroy the possibility of this working out well. And I found the German Chancellor quite confident that he thought that there were lots of ways here to achieve what we're trying to achieve and to bridge any remaining gaps.

Q Did President Musharraf explain what the obstacles are to Pakistan participating militarily in Iraq? And in particular, did he express any concern about the nascent Israeli-Indian strategic relationship?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, did not come up in this meeting. In fact, they did not talk about troop contribution in this meeting. The President said, we'd be glad to have your contributions of any kind that we can. And those are discussions I think he'll continue to have. But Pakistan has said that it needs probably a U.N. resolution; it may need some other Arab -- or some other Muslim countries to be involved. They've said those sorts of things and I'm sure we'll pursue it.

Q On contributions, you said those discussions are going on. At what level are they going on? And what sort of feedback are you hearing in terms of troops and money?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they're going on at several different levels. They're going on at my level, they're going on at Colin Powell's level, they're going on at levels below that. But in terms of financial contributions, those discussions have really not taken any concrete form yet. We're still more than a month away from the donors conference. It's only recently that the needs assessments are actually being completed for the reconstruction effort in Iraq.

But already people are clearly thinking about what kinds of contributions they can make. The Germans came today, as Chancellor Schroeder said, talking about perhaps they could take over some training of police; they could perhaps even participate in training of the army. I know that the Russians have said that they're thinking about what kinds of contributions they can make.

People are coming forward to say, we want to help. And now there will be a process of matching what people can do to the needs that are there. But that's a somewhat longer process and certainly not one that's going to take place at the head of state level.

Q Secretary Rumsfeld said this morning, we're not going to get a lot of international troops, with or without a U.N. resolution. And about the same time, General Pace was saying we may need to alert more reservists over four to six weeks if we don't have commitments on a third multinational division. Do you agree with those two assessments?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not sure that -- I believe what Secretary Rumsfeld was saying is that we're not going to get several divisions of troops. I mean, there's still a possibility that we could get a multinational division, or so. I don't think anybody rules that possibility out.

Q He said zero to 10,000 or 15,000.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, that would be a multinational division, 15,000 would be a multinational division. And I think the issues of troop rotation and what the needs will be for American forces are still being worked out.

Q Can you say, apart from the President laying out the parameters in his speech, if, in these private meetings, can you point to one or two sort of building blocks for the resolution that -- do you feel like the President laid a foundation here? Is he just casting forward, or do you expect to see a resolution tabled next week? And the President meets with Putin this weekend, and then goes to Asia next month. Are we to view this as a sort of months-long process at this point?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It could be. And I don't think that there is any concern that that would be a problem. I -- when he talked to Chancellor Schroeder, for instance, they did talk about getting it right, giving time for consultation, not rushing the resolution forward. I think people feel that there has been good consultation here, that there are ways to bridge in terms of language and concerns that people have had.

What really comes through is that the basic principles on which people want to proceed are really quite coincident. Everybody wants to proceed on the basis that there ought -- the Iraqis ought to be self-governing as soon as possible. Everybody wants to proceed on the premise that, nonetheless, has to be done in a way that actually achieves the foundations for democratic development in Iraq. Everybody wants to see the U.N. play a role in helping the Iraqis come to -- through the process and out to self-governance. And I suspect you're going to see a lot of discussion about what language achieves that. But I think that the -- with one possible exception, which, quite frankly, is the French, which -- where they've had very clear ideas about precisely what they would like to see -- people have been willing to talk about and think about how the language might bridge that gap. And I think we'll get there, we'll get there.

Q Do you envision that a resolution would contain this financial assistance piece? Is that something that would be part of the resolution in some way?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You mean a call for financial assistance, or --

Q Right, that those who are -- with the resolution there's some kind of mechanism set up for donations or assistance.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are already mechanisms out there, David, to which people can contribute. There's an Iraqi development fund to which people can contribute that has a kind of international oversight board that the Central Bank can draw on. I think it's much more likely to just address the fact that member nations should contribute, and probably address the role of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank -- the international financial institutions. But there are already vehicles or vessels to which people could contribute; those don't need to be set up.

Q Why do you think you're running into some resistance already to getting the kind of financial contributions that the President is appealing for?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: David, I don't think we are running into resistance. I keep reading this -- because we haven't actually asked anybody for anything specific. People are out there saying that they are going to want to contribute. The needs assessment is barely dry -- the ink on the needs assessment is barely dry. And now we'll go out and we'll try to match what people are able to do with the actual needs. But nobody has said to the United States, we don't intend to contribute. Nobody has said that.

Q On your own schedule, have you seen the Israeli Foreign Minister, are you seeing him, about the fence?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I had discussions about the fence with my counterpart on Thursday -- no, last week -- was it last week or this week? Monday -- Monday. It's just been a really long week -- Monday.

Q I thought you were seeing him today --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I am seeing the Israeli Foreign Minister, as well. But the detailed discussions with the Israelis about the fence have already taken place.

Q What does the President think about the reception that he received yesterday in his speech? Much has been written about that. Did he feel that some in the Assembly were hostile to him?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. He felt that the reception was very good. Everybody with whom he talked thanked him for a speech that they thought was straightforward and important. The speech actually produced an important set of discussions about proliferation with the French President. They spend a great deal of time on the proliferation challenge.

Today the German Chancellor asked whether or not Germany might be able to talk to us soon about whether that U.N. resolution that the President talked about on proliferation could be put forward very soon. They had good discussions about Iran, in the context of the proliferation challenge.

And so I think the President feels that he came here and did what he needed to do. He needed to make clear to people that the United States values the partnership of our best friends and of the international community in meeting global challenges, but that that means we actually have to meet them. We cannot be in a position of sweeping under the rug the fact that there are some really tough issues out there and that they have to be addressed. And just talking about them is not addressing them.

And I found that one of the most interesting things is that that was actually echoed in a number of the speeches, including in Kofi Annan's speech, who, while he talked about the dangers of unilateralism, went on to say, nonetheless, you can't just criticize "unilateralism," you're going to have to address the problems that make people feel vulnerable. And I thought that was an extraordinary thing for a U.N. General Secretary to say -- Secretary General to say, and I think that it was a challenge to the United Nations to do whatever it needs to do, in terms of reform, in terms of dealing with these issues, because, as the President said last year, the U.N. needs to be effective in meeting these challenges.

Q The Joint Chiefs said today that they would, within the next month or so, have to start calling up thousands, if not tens of thousands, of American reservists because there are no foreign troops now ready to come in and -- don't you feel any sense of pressure to move?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are looking at the issues in terms of troop strength. It's not yet been determined what precisely will need to be done. I don't think that anyone is feeling any pressure to get foreign troops -- although, foreign troops would clearly be welcome. And we expect that the conversations below the level of Heads of State will be going on now about what kinds of troop contributions could be made if and when there is a U.N. resolution.

Okay? Great. Thank you very much.

END 2:02 P.M. EDT


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